Author Event: Susan Cheever and *Louisa May Alcott*

Two weeks ago, on November 14, I had the great pleasure of attending an event with Susan Cheever and her latest book, Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography.  Full disclosure: the event was at our Concord Bookshop (my employer!).

I enjoyed this reading as a member of the very full audience; my friend Kristine sat with me, and I saw Robin from our writing group.  I recognized many other people from around town and in the bookshop.  I guess after 3+ years this really is home for me :)  

When you have a book about such a major iconic figure right here in town, there’s bound to be a great turnout — from the casual fan whose admiration grows steadily (that’s me; did you know the title of my blog is taken from a Louisa May Alcott novel?), to serious academics, to tourists who were lucky enough to happen upon the event while visiting.

Ms. Cheever started the presentation by talking about her inspiration for writing the biography – about ten years ago she was asked to write the foreward to a reissue of Little Women.  In preparing the piece, she re-read a childhood favorite that she hadn’t visited for a while; after that … she was hooked!  She read every biography of Louisa May Alcott that she could get her hands on, as well as bios of other figures from the area and era – Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc.

In reading about this cluster of people (philosophers, writers, to quote the Wizard of Oz, “big thinkers”), Cheever noted that the women in the circle were given little press.  This realization inspired her to write American Bloomsbury, a look at both the men and women of Concord’s 19th-century literary circle, including analysis of their relationships.  I purchased American Bloomsbury at the event, but have yet to read it (so many books, so little time …).

Cheever hadn’t yet satisfied her LMA itch, and continued to research the author and her history.  In particular, she was interested in the choices Alcott was given (in regard to her work of writing, love/marriage, and commitments to her family versus her own aspirations) as well as the author’s complicated relationship with her father.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call it love-hate, but Cheever makes a case for both animosity and deep affection between Bronson Alcott and his daughter.

Cheever’s conversational introduction to the event and the passages she read led to a lively Q&A with the audience.  It’s clear she knows her subject, and is passionate about the connection she makes between Louisa May Alcott, the fictional Jo March, and so many of today’s women who identify with both.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon – my review of Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography will be posted next week.

12 comments to Author Event: Susan Cheever and *Louisa May Alcott*

  • So sorry I missed this – but now I get your newsletter!! :)
    I loved American Bloomsbury!! I’m interested in what you think about it.
    I’ll need to ask Santa for this one for Christmas! :0

  • Looks like you had a fabulous event! Glad you were able to score a copy, hope you enjoy it.

  • What a great event. You live in the perfect place for bookish people.

    If you haven’t read Cheever’s Note Found in a Bottle, you might consider it. A memoir that both Mr. BFR and I enjoyed.

  • How lucky you are! A pretty nice place to call home!

  • It was a wonderful event, I was so happy to make it and meet her ! I loved hearing about her research at the Concord Library. She is a wonderful speaker as well as writer.
    p.s. glad you are finally feeling at home :-)

  • After reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, I have been intrigued by the author and her life, particularly the struggles with her father. I think this would be an amazing book, and would love to get the chance to read it myself. It’s so neat that you were able to get to see the author read as well. The Concord Bookshop sounds like the place to be!

  • I love the way she came to write this book! What a fun event!

  • Beth – it would have been fun to see you (and to add you to my list!), but I understand … we can pack only so much into the weekends.

    Michelle – I really loved this biography – it was readable (not heavy academic, but well-documented with notes)

    Beth F – thanks for the suggestion. I’d like to get back to reading across an author’s body of work; plan to change my reading habits a bit in 2011.

    rhapsody – we joke that we won’t be natives until we’ve lived here 10 generations, but, it IS nice to run into people I know.

    Kristine – the library archives are amazing. As is the art; I wonder if there’s a brochure/book/website about all the art there – statues, paintings, etc. (off to investigate!)

    zibilee – well, I think it’s the place to be, but I’m biased! I do attend events at other bookshops, too … always happy to get out and mix and mingle with bookish folk.

    Kathy – yes, I hate to ask “what are you writing next” when an author is promoting her current book, but I wonder if she’s yet done with LMA and the gang :)

  • I have always been fascinated by LMA and hadn’t heard of this book. I can’t wait to read it. It sounds like you have a wonderful place to work. Isn’t it nice to be a part of the community?

  • I wish I still lived in Mass — I would have driven down for sure. Sounds like a wonderful author, wonderful book, and wonderful event!

  • Thanks for the vicarious view at being there. I lurve LMA. And Susan Cheever is taking after her father’s side of the family more all the time.

  • How wonderful! I got to see Susan Cheever in Westboro a few days later but it wasn’t so crowded. :-( I posted about it on my blog about Louisa May Alcott at I’m currently doing a reading diary (to borrow a phrase from a fellow blogger) of Cheever’s book, while reading different books and stories that she cites along the way (I went on an Amazon shopping spree earlier in the year and I’m so glad I did!). We have a lively group over at the blog and would love to have all of you join us.

    p.s. Did you get to see Richard Francis too, the author of the new Fruitlands book? That was such a treat to meet him!

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